The Maine broccoli season has made a positive start this year, with good volume and excellent quality coming through, according to growers. Although parts of the Northeast experienced rain and unusually high temperatures in late July, the crop has not suffered any damage. Production is ramping up as we approach the peak of the season.
"Our main harvest began in mid-July, so we are entering our third week now," said Tara Smith Vighetti of Smith's Farm. "We have had just enough rain and quality has been excellent. We are enjoying good volume and the early stands have been particularly strong this year. Right now, we are producing at a rate of 50,000 - 60,000 cases per week, and currently in the process of ramping up to our peak production of 100,000 cases per week."
Smith Farms partners left to right Lance Smith, Tara Smith Vighetti, Zachary Smith, Emily Smith
Smith Vighetti explained that part of the reason for the strong production figures is due to the use of transplants. "We used to have a hard time getting into crown volume with direct seed plantings. But we have since being doing more transplants early on and seeing great results from that. More of the Northeast market is trending towards crowns so it's important to stay ahead in that regard."
She added that the season is peaking now and will continue at that pace until the end of September before tapering off in October.
More varieties to meet demand
Nowadays, the market wants more than broccoli crowns. Foodservice and processors are seeking out florets, while there are many other uses for broccoli in recipes and value-added food products. Additionally, certain markets prefer different forms of fresh broccoli. As a result, growers like Smith's Farm are expanding on the varieties they grow to meet these demands.
"We are always trialing new varieties and currently have more than 20 different varieties of broccoli," Smith Vighetti shared. "Over the last few years, we have been shipping more florets in bulk for processors. Fresh broccoli is a staple in retail stores, and we make sure to grow enough types to cater to the different markets. For example, retail specs vary in sizing and stem length. It also extends to packaging, where we do shrink wrap bunches for retailers in the Southeast. Everybody wants something different and we have the capacity to deliver that."
Food safety and environmental issues
In addition to increasing the use of transplants and trialing new varieties, Smith's Farm is also aiming to become more sustainable in the way they grow their produce, while also working on continually improving food safety practices. Smith Vighetti said the Smith family has been farming in Maine for six generations, moving into broccoli production in the 1980's. The company also produces cauliflower.
"We are the largest broccoli producer in the East," she noted. "Our innovation is currently focused around resource conservation, yield per acre efficiencies as well as food safety. We are continually updating our land management practices along with infrastructure such as cooling facilities. We also have a 2-acre solar field that powers our Maine cooling and packing house. On these fronts, we are working on staying ahead of the line."
For more information:
Tara Smith Vighetti
Ph: +1 (800) 393-9898